Searching : A Personal Journey of Searching For Birth Parents

 

I grew up knowing that my mom was placed for adoption when she was an infant in the late 1950s.  My grandparents were unable to have children and worked with a private attorney to adopt my mom.  We had little to no information about her birthmother, and what little we may have had, was probably speculation at best for the reasons surrounding her decision.  Growing up, Mom never had a strong inclination to search for her birthmother.  In my high school and college years, I remember asking questions about why she hadn’t looked for her because I had a strong desire to search and (let’s be honest) meet my biological grandmother one day.   But my questions were always met with the same response that she simply wasn’t interested and she knew who her family was.  She also wanted to respect my Grandmother and feared that searching for her birthmother would crush my Grandmother’s heart and cause her to feel like less of a mother in my Mom’s life.  I deeply wish that my Grandmother would have understood that completing a search, and potentially meeting a birth family member, would have never diminished or replaced her role in my Mom’s life (or mine).

After graduate school, I started working in the field of adoption.  I was so amazed to see some of the advances that had been made towards sharing information in adoption – sending pictures, having visits, collecting genetic health information, etc.  As levels of openness in adoption have increased in even the last decade, I have often pondered the circumstances surrounding my mom’s placement. Who was her birthmother and what circumstances did she find herself in that made adoption her best option?  What became of her life and did she ever have more children?  Do I have aunts and uncles out there? Equally as important, I desperately wanted her to know that she made a good choice for my Mom and that she has had a good life.   And then, of course, I had other practical questions like, any chance you’ve had cancer or some other major hereditary disease we should be on the lookout for?

Starting Our Search

The day eventually came that Mom felt comfortable starting the search process.  She began by signing up on the State of Texas’s Central Adoption Registry.  Many states have a website where birthmoms, adoptees and biological siblings can voluntarily register and if a match is found, the state facilitates contact (with a little bit of pre-meeting counseling for all parties).  A short time later, Mom received a letter in the mail in response.  This letter informed us that her records were matched with her birthmother’s and that her birthmother had passed away.  The end.  No name.  No date of death.  No identifying information that would tell us anything beyond the simple fact that she was no longer here (and my dreams of meeting her were crushed). I had always pictured two outcomes from signing up on the registry – either being matched (with a living person) OR knowing nothing (because her birthmother or siblings had not signed up on the registry).  It didn’t occur to me that we would be matched AND we would know nothing further.

Our next step was to have a judge sign a court order to unseal Mom’s adoption records, which are maintained at the Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) in our state’s capital.  I thought this process would be like climbing Mount Everest blind folded.  I shared our situation with a friend who is an adoption attorney and he had the right connections to make this happen quickly.  He was able to do a little bit of research for us and within days a judge had signed off on an order!  He mailed it to the BVS office and we waited for a response. And we waited a little longer.  And, sadly, we are still waiting now.

I know there are other methods we could use to continue the search.  A simple Google search yields 11.2 million results for “searching for birth mother” with promises from companies to find birthparents in 3 easy steps.  For our family, we are working through the channels and at the pace with which we are most comfortable.  In my longings to have my questions answered, I have to remember that while this is my history, this is my Mom’s story.  I don’t want to press and pursue beyond her comfort level.

Things to Consider when Searching for Your Biological Family

  1. If you are thinking about searching for your biological parent or child that you placed for adoption, start with signing up on an adoption registry in the state where the child was born. While there is a small fee in some states to do this, these sites are legitimate and a simple way to be available in the event someone is searching for you too.
  2. The options for searching are growing. Court orders to unseal records may be granted or denied.  And, if granted, they still may not yield the answers you’re looking for (as in our case).  There are companies for hire and support groups alike ready to help you search.  We have not engaged in this process so while I have no recommendations to make, I caution you to do your homework on these companies and understand any fee structures before engaging their services.
  3. Have some fun with your DNA. This past Christmas, we purchased a DNA kit from Ancestry.com and learned a little more about Mom’s ethnic heritage.  It didn’t produce direct answers, but I was surprised by the excitement I felt at knowing a little more about where this side of my family comes from.  Another company, MyHeritage is also involved with DNA testing, more specifically to assist in matching biological families.  Currently, they are offering free DNA kits to those who apply and qualify through April 30, 2018.  As stated above, I caution you to do some research here too.
  4. For those of you who may have an open adoption, I would implore you to do what you can to keep the lines of communication open with birth families. Relationships between birth and adoptive families can certainly be challenging to navigate and may change in their frequency over time. However, having direct access to a birth family member who can answer questions an adopted person may not have until decades later (or, ahem, perhaps even the adopted person’s child!) is an asset.  Please know that I’m not encouraging you to maintain close contact if it puts a child in danger, or if someone is not making healthy choices.  But, if the environment is healthy, do what you can to maintain this relationship.
  5. For those considering adoption, I encourage you to work with a licensed agency. If my grandparents had worked with an agency (which I realize were not as common then as they are now), I wonder if documents might have been on file with them.  In our state, agencies today are required to maintain adoption records.  In the event they close, there are policies and procedures in place for the transfer of these records. An adoption agency will be a much easier entity to contact if information is needed.  Plus, they are also required to gather genetic health information from birth families, which is a valuable tool for you and your adopted child to have.  Adoption agencies can also help you navigate through birthparent relationship challenges that may arise.

Searching for birth family is a unique and personal journey.  There is not a one-size-fits-all search process that works for everyone.  Our family has learned a lot about each other in this process and have grown closer as we have experienced both excitement and grief in searching for Mom’s birth mother.  We may never know this side of Heaven who she is, but we know that she made a loving decision for my Mom and we will always honor her for this.

 

Best of Nightlight: Adopting out of the “Birth Order”

by Laura Godwin

Are you like your siblings? Or do you think that your birth order played more of role in who you are? Or does your genetic make-up determine more of your personality and qualities? Because siblings are raised essentially in the same environment, it stands to reason that we would be more like our brothers and sisters. Yet, reportedly the same home environment makes up only 5-10% of our personality, while genetic factors may have more impact—perhaps up to 50%. This then leaves birth order as another factor that could affect personality. In fact, much research has been done on this subject and quite a few books have been written on the topic of birth order. Most of us have heard that the oldest child is more assertive, conscientious, in addition to being more neurotic, envious, and nervous. Younger siblings are noted to be more creative, open to new ideas as well as rebellious.

So how does birth order affect the adopted child? Does it matter if children are adopted out of the “birth order”? In 1990, researchers wanted to find this out as no study had looked at the impact that an adopted child’s position in the family has on the child’s personality. [1] These researchers studied first-born children placed into the younger child position in the adoptive families. Many such adopted children could fall into this category—the first born child of a birth mother–placed into a family with one or more children. Of course, the reverse is also possible: children could be the second, third, fourth child of a birth mother and the first child of an adoptive couple. In an analysis by these researchers, the rearing order of the children had little impact on personality except for conscientiousness, which was higher for children who were raised as first-born. The child’s sex had more impact than did rearing order.

Although the cited study may be of interest, most adoptive families are not asking what impact rearing order will have on infants who are first born to their biological parents if they enter a home as the second or third child. If a child is an infant, then it is assumed that such a child will have the characteristics associated with the order placed into the adoptive family. What families want to know is what impact adopting children out of age order has on the children already there— especially on the oldest child in the home.

This subject is not found in scientific literature, but common sense and attention to each child’s needs can help in making the decision to adopt out of the rearing order as well as help in the adjustment of the children after the adoption.

First, consider your children’s present ages.  If your children are young, adopting out of order most likely will have less impact on them, than if they are older.

Next, consider sibling rivalry and the need for attention. If you have two young children and are thinking of adopting an 8-year old child, who most likely will need lots of nurturing and attention–especially if the child has more profound attachment issues–you need to consider how a school -age child, who may be more like a 4-year-old emotionally, will affect your life and those of the other children in the home. Although a child may be 8 years old, the child may be physically smaller and much less mature than a 4-year-old child in your home. If the newly adopted child looks like an 8-year-old, it can be easy to see this child as being much older than the other children and expecting more than the child is capable of doing. In fact, most children entering a home are going to have lots of needs and most likely will not be emotionally on par with other children of the same age. You will have to adjust your expectations for such a child. If an 11-year old from an orphanage is an only child, it is easier to treat the child like an 8-year old or younger. However, if you have a 6-year-old in your home, you may find yourself  requiring more of the older child.

Some families have larger age gaps in their children and adopt a child who can fill in the age difference. This means that neither the oldest nor the youngest child’s position in the family is displaced. Again, the chronological age of the child entering the family can be quite different from the child’s emotional age; you may find that this new “middle” child is more like the youngest child in the family.  As stated, it is all about expectations. If you adopt a child who fits nicely into the age range where your children are right now, this  newly adopted child may not blend as well as you had anticipated.

Children, who are older, can also have attachment issues and may have been sexually abused. This means that it can be difficult for such a child to be around younger children. Such children may try to harm the younger children—even if in subtle ways. It is natural for adults  to be protective of younger children. Behavior that parents may tolerate if there are no other children or only older children in the home becomes intolerable when younger children may become victims.

Some therapists indicate that a large percentage of older children coming from orphanages have been sexually abused on some level. (This is also true for children coming from the foster care system.) Precautions need to be put into place, and this will further change the family’s dynamics. The integration of such a child into the family should be done cautiously.  An older child should not be left alone with younger children until a pattern of behavior is well-established. Children should sleep in separate bedrooms and chimes may need to go  also on these doors.

In fact, it is better if a child who has newly arrived sleeps in the room on a cot in the parents’ bedroom for a while so that the child can feel secure. If the child is too old for this, then it would be better if the child has a room adjacent to the parents’ bedroom.

The same precautions that are taken when adopting an older child need to also be taken when adopting a sibling group. Sometimes the older child can harm the younger child. Often, however, the older child is very protective of the younger sibling, as the older child may have “parented”  the younger sibling(s) while in an orphange.

If an older child or sibling group is adopted, and you later plan to adopt younger children, you also need to consider the same issues of having an older child with a younger child in the home.

Experience as parents can also help you decide what age child you feel you can parent. If you are raising pre-school children, jumping to meet the needs of a middle school child can be quite an adjustment. However, if you are around meddle-school age children and feel comfortable with this group, then adopting an older child may be right for your family.

If your children are older, and you will be adopting a child (younger or older), you will want your children’s input on the matter. Although children do not make the ultimate decision on how parents grow their family (what would any “baby” in the family say about being displaced by a younger sibling?), having your children’s input can make them feel more secure and more welcoming of a new sibling. If your children do object to a new sibling, you can discuss with them their concerns and ways that the adjustment can be made better for all.

Asking the question, “Is adopting out the birth order OK?” and seeking advice means that you are seeking ways to make an adoption as successful as possible. Many families have thrived after adopting out of the birth order. It is a matter of preparation, commitment, and, if problems arise, taking appropriate steps to seek support and make adjustments.

For a discussion on adopting out of the birth order and getting advice from other experienced parents go to When Adoptive Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order by Lois Melina in Adoptive Families magazine.

 


[1] Beer, J. M., & Horn, J. M. (2000). The influence of rearing order on personality development within two adoption cohorts. Journal of Personality, 68(4), 689-819.